Planning, Design, and Budget

This is your introduction to the renovation process – how it works, how to get prepared, “who's who” in terms of contractors, and the business aspects you need to understand before you get going.

Developing your plans

This section takes you through the planning process so that you can:

  • Develop a clear description of what you want to change in your home and specific goals for your renovation project.
  • Define your priorities - which renovation items are "must-haves," and which would be nice to have if your budget allows.

This planning can make a real difference in terms of the success of your project and your ability to keep within your budget. Many renovation problems are a direct result of poor planning.


What do you want to change?

There are many reasons to renovate. You may need to repair or replace something, such as roofing, siding or windows. You may want to modernize a tired-looking kitchen or bathroom. Or changes in your household, such as the arrival of a new child or the need for a home office, may require alterations to your home. Thinking through what you want to change, and why, serves as the foundation for your renovation plans.

  • Take an inventory. Make a list of everything in your home you want to change. This should include "must-do" repairs, maintenance and remodelling, as well as things you would like to change if your budget allows. It’s also useful to note things you really like about your home and want to preserve as-is.
  • Describe each item on your list briefly in terms of your day-to-day living experience. Here are a few examples of how homeowners describe some of the more common problems that lead to renovation:

"We only have one bathroom and with two teenagers and two working parents, getting everyone out the door in the morning is a real headache. I feel like I've been in a traffic jam before I even leave the house."

"We never really use our living room. It's too formal for the way we live, and with the smaller windows in these older homes, it's too dark and feels closed-in."

  • Make sure that everyone in your home participates. Renovators find that people often overlook inconvenient aspects in their homes simply because they are used to them. So take some time doing this inventory and get input from all members of your household.
  • Think about seasonal conditions. If you are planning your renovation in the summer, think back to last winter. Did you have enough closet space for coats and boots? Are there areas of your home that are drafty or hard to heat? Conversely, if your planning is taking place during the colder months, think about your lifestyle during the summer.

To help you:  Download and use Worksheet "A"  to record the changes you want to make to your home.

Defining goals and setting priorities

Beyond necessary repairs, your home renovation should provide you with improved function, comfort and convenience. To achieve this, you need to set some general goals for your project and determine what your priorities are.



In setting goals, consider the day-to-day experience of living in your home and focus on how you want this to be improved by your renovation. For instance, if your existing kitchen is a problem, describe how your dream kitchen would work. Here’s an example:

"I'll be able to cook dinner without having to stop and clean up all the time. There's plenty of working space right near the stove and there's also a big area for setting out dishes and serving plates. Everything I need is close at hand, but not on the counter top – there are lots of drawers and cupboards for everything. And there is enough space so that someone else can sit at the kitchen table, and we can carry on a conversation without bumping into each other."

By describing your renovation goals this way, you focus on what you want to achieve in relation to your lifestyle. There are three important aspects you should pay particular attention to:


  • Use of Space. How you use a room determines the amount of space required and the extent to which the space needs to be open or closed to surrounding areas of your home. What activities will take place in the room? What existing or future furnishings must fit into it? Will noise from this room be disruptive to others?
  • Light and Brightness. What are the lighting requirements of the activities planned for each room? Do existing windows provide adequate sunlight and a feeling of spaciousness? Will you use this room more during the day or in the evening? If artificial light is needed, would general lighting or task lighting be more suitable?
  • Movement of People. What are the traffic patterns through each area of your home? Does a room provide access to other frequently used parts of your home like the kitchen or bathroom and does this conflict with the activities you plan for this room?
    With clear goals in place, you can then determine what your priorities are.

Use Worksheet "B"  to write down your renovation goals. With clear goals in place, you can now determine what your priorities are. This next part of renovation planning can be the most fun and exciting.

Your Wish List

This next part of renovation planning can be the most fun and exciting. Developing a "Wish List" involves listing the specific features you would like to include in your project and deciding on the importance of each item. “We need this” items are those things you absolutely need. “We like this” items are those you’d like to have, but that are not essential if your budget is tight.

This stage of planning is all about exploring design and product ideas and learning as much as you can about what is available. Get out and see what others have done, what new products are available and what type of "look" is right for your family and home. Here are some ideas:

  • CHBA renovators across Canada do amazing work, and the best of the best in home design is found in CHBA’s national awards program.  Check out our photo galleries of the winners of in CHBA’s National Awards for Housing Excellence, and be prepared to be inspired!
  • The Internet is of course a fabulous source of home renovation ideas. Search "home renovation ideas" and start looking. Visit home improvement retailers’ websites for specific product ideas. Try going to specific product manufacturers websites. Save the things you like or print them out.
  • Look for design and home improvement magazines at your local newsstand, library or online. Collect pictures of homes, rooms and products that appeal to you.
  • Visit new home builders' show homes to see the latest in design, construction and finishing of homes.
  • Visit kitchen, bathroom and other retail showrooms. Talk with salespeople and pick up manufacturers' literature on the types and brands of products you like. For a list of local home builders in your area click here
  • In many communities, home shows are held during the year. Renovators, designers and product manufacturers take part in these shows. This provides an excellent opportunity to see what's new. Check with your Local Home Builders' Association for information about home shows.
  • In some communities, local renovators will organize renovation open house tours to showcase recent renovation projects. Again, check with your Local Home Builders' Association for details.

Keep the information you collect in a file, box or computer folder for later reference. This material will be very useful in discussions with renovators and will give them a good idea of what you like and want. Use Worksheet "D" to write down your wish list and priority items.

The Design Process

A successful renovation depends on good design. Whether you are remodelling the entire house, turning your basement into living space or updating your kitchen, the quality of the design will determine how satisfied you will be with the finished job.

Experienced renovators will work with you to explore designs that fit your home, lifestyle and budget. The information you have developed through your own planning process will pay off at this point in the process. Renovators will also advise you on the level of design detail and specification needed before they can provide you with a firm cost estimate and contract, and the work can get underway.

  • For a simple renovation project, you and the renovator may be able to work out the design details. If your renovation is large or complex, the renovator may suggest that design be dealt with as a first and separate step of your project.
  • A growing number of renovation companies have a designer on staff - part of a growing trend towards one-stop shopping. Alternatively, renovators may recommend a designer or architect from their network of professional associates Either way, having a renovator involved at the design stage helps to ensure that your design is practical and feasible from a construction standpoint.
  • Typically, the design process begins with a discussion of your ideas and a look at photos, drawings or product literature that you may have collected. The renovator or designer will also ask you to describe what you are trying to accomplish and what do you really need and want.
  • Based on this information, "concept sketches" are developed, usually more than one to give you a range of options. Often additional fine-tuning is needed to complete the design.
  • At the end of the design phase, you will have a set of drawings or plans that are the basis for getting cost estimates. The drawings should show clearly what the final project will look like, including close-up details, and be accompanied by a specification list of the products and materials to be used.
  • When your renovation entails structural changes or other work that requires a construction permit, working drawings or blueprints are required for approval by your municipality. Professional renovators can take care of all the details, including dealing with building officials.
  • Renovation time is the perfect time to improve the energy efficiency of your home—indeed, the desire improved energy efficiency is often what starts a reno project. To get best informed about the most cost effective ways to improve your home’s energy performance, the best approach is for you or your renovator to engage an EnerGuide evaluator. Certified by the Government of Canada, these professionals do a detailed analysis of your home and give you a full report on its current energy performance, along with a potential level your home can reach with a list of the optimum recommended upgrades for you to consider over time to get there.

Tips for keeping within your budget

Renovating entails balancing what you want and the financial resources you have available. Professional renovators suggest a number of approaches that can help to stretch your budget.

  • Set priorities. Cost-wise renovations begin with a clear plan of what you want to accomplish. The previous section walks you through how to do this.
  • Look closely at what you already have. Look for the hidden assets in your home. For instance, homeowners sometimes assume that they need extra floor space when all that may be needed is more effectively designed space. By rearranging interior walls, eliminating separations and installing larger windows, a less-costly renovation can often create the sense of spaciousness and light you want.
  • Old hardwood is often of high quality and can be refinished. If your old trim and doors are in good shape, they can be refinished rather than replaced.  And be sure to look under carpeting to see what’s underneath – in older homes this is often vintage hardwood.
  • Do the work in stages to suit your budget. Doing the project in phases may allow you to achieve the results you want without undue financial pressure. Your professional renovator can help develop a master plan with proper sequencing of tasks, timelines and expected costs.
  • Consider capital versus operating costs. Water-conserving fixtures will save a considerable amount of money over time in areas with water metering. Likewise, energy-efficient lighting, high-efficiency heating systems and electronic thermostats mean long-term savings. Professional renovators are up-to-date on the latest technologies and can provide you with the information you need to make wise decisions for the long term.
  • Do some of the work yourself. If you have the skills, time and interest, you can stretch your renovation dollars by taking on some of the work yourself. Generally, renovators recommend that you leave structural and mechanical renovations to the professionals, but many homeowners can do their own painting, landscaping or other finishing jobs.


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